Who We Are

This is us

The power of being proximate

Our founders, Jim Taylor and Debbie Aung Din, launched Proximity Designs in 2004 with the commitment to create a social business for Myanmar’s underserved rural families. They saw farmers’ profound needs were neglected by the private, government and aid sectors. After 20 years working to make change happen in tough environments around the world, they put to use a powerful idea they learned at the start of their careers.

It was in the Mississippi Delta where they worked with social entrepreneur and civil rights leader, John Perkins, that they learned an important lesson: deep knowledge and understanding comes from living among those you aim to serve. Their problems become yours.

With these values, they moved to Myanmar and entered the rural market with 13 team members and two treadle pump models, working alongside rural farmers.

Hence, our name Proximity.

The mission

35 million rural people with a lot to gain

In a country where 70 percent of the population depends on agriculture, improvements in farming technology and techniques – and the credit to access them – are vital to improving living conditions.

That’s where we come in. Our mission is to increase incomes across rural Myanmar. Over the past 16 years, our customers have seen an average annual income increase of 30 percent by using our products and services, which helps put food on the table, keep kids in school and set families up for a brighter, easier future.

Agility through moments of change

While our mission has always stayed the same, over the years we’ve adapted quickly, responding to changing needs. This couldn’t have been more true in the days immediately after Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady Delta in 2008. That year we shifted gears, employing our distribution network to eventually deliver over $17 million in emergency aid to 1.2 million farmers.

As we grow, we continuously aim to deliver the most impactful products and services for our customers. Now we see ourselves at an inflection point – moving beyond treadle pumps to scale a wider platform of agricultural services, coupled with nation-building to help Myanmar’s farmers achieve their goals.

Social and enterprising

Being a social business, our aim is to have deep sustainable impact at a large scale. Our revenue model is 35% earned revenue from the farm technology and agronomy products we sell and 65% philanthropic capital. Our grants allow us to invest in product design, measure impact and reach thousands of rural villages.

Human-Centered Design
Designing products for the rural poor play_circle_filled

The Delta, the Dry Zone and beyond

The scale and scope of our work

Our early years of operation allowed us to create a nationwide network of field sales teams, private retailers and hundreds of independent village agents needed to deliver products and services to small farm customers across Myanmar. Today the scope of our network reaches nearly 75 percent of the farming population. We have customers in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Lower Myanmar, the Dry Zone and the Shan hills.

The golden land

Why we focus on Myanmar

For decades, Myanmar was one of the world’s poorest and most isolated countries. We were drawn to work here because we saw the huge potential for how well-designed products and services could have a meaningful impact on the lives of millions of enterprising small-plot farmers.

Sometimes folks ask us if we have plans to expand beyond Myanmar. Simply put, our answer is no. We strongly believe it takes deep knowledge of a place and the lives of its people to have a chance at solving the complex problems of poverty and economic development. Our intention is to go deep into this large market rather than skim the surface in many different places.

 

Over the past seven years, the pace of change in Myanmar has been dizzying. We’ve had to be especially agile to adjust to the changes our customers are experiencing. Myanmar is far behind its neighbors and millions of small farmers are still neglected and poorly served. It’s now a key moment in the country’s long history. It will take years of sustained effort, wise leadership and efficient use of investments to rebuild the nation and lift millions of rural families out of poverty.

That’s why we’re here.

Lasting impact at scale

Farming households choose to purchase our products and services because they see a quick return on their investment through higher yields, reducing crop losses and optimizing inputs. Our in-house social impact team has been interviewing hundreds of customers every year for over a decade. They measure farmer income gains that can be attributed to the use of our products and services.

Take a look at the numbers below for a snapshot of the scope and scale of our impact:

Scale250,000+ farm customers added each year on a base of over 900,000 farm families
Reach10,000 villages, 160 townships, 75% of the farming population
MedianNet gain of $300 annually per farmer income
Efficiency6x (net income gain/cost to deliver)
Cumulative Impact$498 million in the past 16 years
Sustainability35% of budget from earned revenue, 98% repayment rate on farm loans

Recognition

We are honored to be recipients of The Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, The Curry Stone Design Prize, Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year and The Ashden Award for Energy and Agriculture. In 2019, Proximity was ranked among the world’s 50 Best Workplaces for Innovators by Fast Company.